What You Never Learned in School About the Vietnam War

 

vietnam war

The Vietnam War

Part 1 “Deja Vu”

Directed by Ken Burns and Lyn Novick (2017)

Film Review

Last night Maori TV started a ten-part series on the Vietnam War. The first episode covers the brutal French occupation of Vietnam (1858-1961) and the rise of Ho Chi Minh and General Giap, considered one of greatest military strategists of the 20th century. It was quite alarming to realize that so much I’ve been taught about Vietnam is pure disinformation.

Among other shocking facts I learned about this shameful chapter in US history:

  • The OSS (Office of Strategic Services – precursor to the CIA) dropped a secret team into Vietnam in 1941 to meet with Ho Chi Minh (who was fighting for independence from the French) and provide his men with arms and military equipment.
  • Immediately after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Ho Chi Minh and his followers overpowered French officials to declare independence, with the support of the OSS.
  • As a senator John F Kennedy unconditionally supported Vietnamese independence and self-determination. He later reverse himself as president.
  • Ho Chi Minh repeatedly wrote to Truman requesting US support after French troops re-invaded Vietnam in 1946. The CIA intercepted the letters and never gave them to the President.
  • The line dividing North and South Vietnam, drawn at a 1954 Geneva peace conference, was purely arbitrary. The Vietcong American troops were fighting was actually a South Vietnamese resistance movement against South Vietnamese dictator Ngo Dinh Diem.

This first episode is aptly named “Deja Vu” – this wouldn’t be the last time OSS/CIA- backed “freedom fighters” would go on to bite the US government in the butt.

Untold History of the US – The Cold War

Parts 4 and 5 of Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States explore the exaggerated claims of Soviet expansionism that characterized the Truman/Eisenhower administration.

Part 4 begins by contrasting the economic standing of the US and the USSR when the war ended in 1945. The US economy was booming. America controlled 50% of the world’s economic production and most of its gold. The Soviet economy, in contrast, had been shattered. Truman reneged on Roosevelt’s promise to provide the Soviets post war aid to assist in their recovery. During the US occupation of West Germany, he also discontinued German war reparations to the USSR.

The late forties was a period of excruciating poverty for Eastern Europe, with major famine in the Ukraine. With the Soviet economy in a shambles, the claims made by Truman about their intention to conquer the world were ludicrous.

After Henry Wallace, the last holdover from the Roosevelt administration, made a major speech (echoing statements by Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt) opposing nuclear weapons, Truman fired him.

This episode also explores the first implementation of the Truman Doctrine, justifying US intervention in the domestic affairs of other countries. Truman first used it in 1947 to put down a popular uprising against a fascist coup in Greece. In a clear precursor to US intervention in Vietnam, Truman sent in US advisors to train the Greek military in “counterinsurgency tactics,” ie death squads to crush unions and human rights organizations and concentration camps to extinguish civilian support for pro-independence activists.

Part 4: Cold War: 1945-50

Part 5 explores the election of Eisenhower to power in 1952, coinciding with Khrushchev’s rise to power in 1953 and the re-election of Churchill in 1951 (Churchill was replaced by Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee from 1945-51).

Eisenhower, who had opposed using the A-bomb against Japan at Pottsdam, became a fervent nuclear weapons supporter as president. Under pressure from anti-communist hawk John Foster Dulles, he resisted Khrushchev’s and Churchill’s to organize a peace summit to limit the nuclear arms race.

Eisenhower would go on to engage in war crimes in Korean, causing massive civilian deaths by bombing North Korean dams.

In addition to authorizing the CIA overthrow of democratically elected governments in Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954, he paid 80% of French military costs as they endeavored to defeat Vietnam’s pro-independence movement.

In this episode, Stone also explores the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1955 in Java. Members consisted of world leaders determined to remain independent of either US or Soviet influence. In attendance at the first meeting were Ho Chi Minh  (Vietnam), Tito (Yugoslavia), Nehru (India), Nasser (Egypt), Zhou Enlai (China) and Sukarno (Indonesia). The CIA eventually removed each of these men from power, in some cases via assassination.

Part 5: the ’50s: Eisenhower, The Bomb and the Third World